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It was the Christmas season and Caridad Alvarez was worried: Her daughter, Xiomara Alverez Engel, had left the house more than 24 hours before to meet her ex-husband in order to buy Christmas presents for the former couple's young daughter. The ex-husband had called shortly thereafter to say she'd never showed up, and Xiomara's older daughter hadn't seen her all day.
So around 11:00 p.m. on Dec 14, 1984, Alvarez and Xiomara Engel's new boyfriend, Andres Diaz, reported her missing to the North Arlington Police in Bergen County, New Jersey, according to court records.
At the same time, almost 650 miles away in Olanta, South Carolina, firefighters and investigators were at a crime scene because, at around 9:00 p.m., two boys had called 911 to report finding a car on fire in a field.
"When we get there, it is totally burning, inside and out," firefighter Jimmy Coker told "Killer Siblings," airing Fridays at 8/7c on Oxygen. "The wheels are burning. All you can tell is that it is a station wagon."
The fire department didn't immediately see anyone inside the car, so they flooded it with water just to make sure it was out. But once they had extinguished the flames completely, they saw a burnt shape in the tire well where the spare would normally be kept.
It was a body.
Back in New Jersey, police were talking to Caridad Alverez about her missing daughter.
"Xiomara had gone to meet her ex-husband, William Engel, and had not returned home since leaving the house at about 7 p.m. on Dec. 13," explained Jim Tobin, a senior investigator, Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office. "William Engel was going to take her Christmas shopping to buy presents for the two young girls." (Xiomara Engel had an older child from a previous relationship.)
Alvarez was insistent that her daughter would not just have taken off and left her daughters — and she was already suspicious of her ex-son-in-law.
"Xiomara’s mother did not have particularly good things to say about William Engel, the ex-husband," Bergen County prosecutor Larry McClure said. "He had mistreated her daughter in the past."
William's relationship with 20-year-old Xiomara Alvarez had begun in 1976, when she was employed as a part-time secretary at the 32-year-old's company, Decor. Soon after, according to news coverage from the Commercial Leader and South Bergen Review, Engel was paying for Alvarez to live in an apartment in Fort Lee, while he, his then-wife, Myriam, and their two children continued their lives in nearby Woodcliff Lake. By 1978, Xiomara Alvarez and William Engel were mostly co-habitating in Lodi.
After Engel and his first wife separated, he and Xiomara Alvarez moved to a house in Franklin Lakes where, in 1980, she gave birth to his daughter. They were married in a civil ceremony in Aug. 1981 and honeymooned in Puerto Rico, but, as she testified during their divorce proceedings, she had been unaware at the time that Engel's divorce was not yet final. (His marriage to Myriam Engel came to a legal end in November 1981.)
The relationship had also long been physically abusive: Testimony during the divorce, statements by her relatives after her death, medical records, and police reports indicated that William Engel had, among other things, punched her, pushed her to the ground and down some stairs, attacked her with a hammer, and forced her to have sex with him. At least two of the incidents occurred after their 1982 separation.
In 1983, Xiomara Engel sought a divorce and spousal support. But because William and Myriam Engel were still married at the time of William and Xiomara Engel's wedding ceremony in Florida, in 1984 she was granted an annulment instead of a divorce — and spousal support of $100 per month (which is around $275 per month in today's dollars). At the time, William Engel was reportedly earning a salary of $120,000 per year (or $325,000 in today's dollars) and owned the Franklin Lakes home they shared, the Woodcliff Lake home where his ex-wife and their kids lived, and an additional summer home.
The end of their marriage did not end Engel's interest in his ex-wife Xiomara: Her divorce lawyer and family said he remained "obsessed" with her.
On Dec. 15 at 5:30 a.m., police went to William Engel's home in tony Franklin Lakes. He told police that he'd been waiting for Xiomara at Decor at their appointed time of 7:30 p.m., and she'd called at 8:30 p.m. to say she was running late but on her way. He waited there, he said, until 9:30 p.m., then went to meet a business associate, Anita Nimberger, and went home.
Police searched both the mall where Xiomara had reportedly told her ex-husband she was shopping and the area between the mall and Decor, but did not find her car. They got a call later that week from Olanta, South Carolina: The VIN on the car found burning in a field on Dec. 14 had been traced to Xiomara Engel. Bergen County investigators obtained the missing woman's dental records and provided them to the medical examiner, who was able to make a positive identification of the burned body found in the tire well: Xiomara Engel.
"Her family was devastated," said Tobin. "Her mother lost her beloved daughter. The two little girls, one 10, one 4, were left without a mother — and it was two weeks before Christmas."
The initial autopsy was able to determine, based on the contents of her stomach, that Xiomara Engel had died within two hours of her last meal, which her family told police had been shortly after 7:00 p.m. on Dec. 13, according to court records. But he was not able to definitively determine the cause of death due to the intensity of the fire and the extensive charring of the body. He ruled out gunshots, stabbings, and blunt force trauma — though he testified that the effects of the fire caused extensive damage to her brain and skull. (Another autopsy conducted later at the behest of the Alvarez family, found fractures in both her thyroid cartilage and hyoid bone, as well as to the soft tissues of her neck, indicating she had been strangled to death.)
The police initially received permission to search William Engel's house but, when they sought permission to search his place of business, Engel called in a lawyer and withdrew his cooperation.
At this point, Bergen County investigators went to talk to Xiomara Engel's boyfriend, Andres Diaz: He was a lawyer in Newark who met the young divorcée when she took a job as a secretary in his office. He also told them that, since beginning their relationship, he'd started receiving harassing phone calls from a man calling himself Raul Valdievia.
The phone calls were traced to William Engel.
Investigators then talked to the supervisor who would've answered the phone at Decor when Xiomara Engel reportedly called her husband at 8:30 p.m. on the night of her disappearance to say she was on her way. He'd received no such call but confirmed seeing William Engel that evening — only his boss was not sitting in his office waiting on his ex-wife. Instead, the supervisor told police, he saw Engel across the street at Engel's other business, Kassa Warehouse, which he owned with his younger brother, Herbert Engel.
According to the supervisor, which was later confirmed by the Engelwood Police Department, an alarm had gone off at Kassa around 8:00 p.m., to which the police had responded. The supervisor, since he worked late at Decor, was on the call sheet for police as a point of contact, and walked over. He missed the alarm and the police, but encountered William Engel, who told him everything was fine and to go back to Decor.
Between the alarm, William Engel's false statements, and the harassment of Andres Diaz, investigators were able to obtain a search warrant for Decor and Kassa, which they served on both places on Dec. 21. They didn't find any evidence that Xiomara Engel had been at either place, nor any evidence of her murder.
Then on Jan. 11, the prosecutor, McClure, gets a call from the U.S. Secret Service.
"They provide information that they got from an informant indicating that there was an individual named Pee Wee Wright from Patterson, New Jersey who was talking about having participated in disposing of a body in South Carolina and burning a car," McClure said.
Investigators interviewed Lewis "Pee Wee" Wright shortly thereafter — who cooperated completely. He told them that, on the evening of Dec. 13, his friend and co-worker from Cooper National, James McFadden, offered him $2,000 to drive with him down to South Carolina later that night to bring a car for insurance purposes. They two drove overnight but, once they arrived at McFadden's relatives' home, Wright noticed blond hair under a tarp in the back of the car and discovered a body.
(Court records reflect that Wright first found a woman's purse in the car while in North Carolina, with identification belonging to Xiomara Engel. McFadden gave him $100 from the wallet and discarded the other contents.)
Wright confronted McFadden about the body, angry that he hadn't been told what they were actually doing. McFadden was able to convince him to help dispose of the car and the body. Court records reflect that McFadden apologized, and Wright took the keys, bought gas, and drove the car to the field to burn it and the body.
When they returned to New Jersey, McFadden paid Wright the promised $2,000 and told them the boss was happy.
Their boss at Cooper National was its owner, Herbert Engel.
Police arrested McFadden on Jan. 18 and, in a confession that eventually ran to 110 pages, the killer unburdened himself.
McFadden told investigators he'd been recruited to kill Xiomara Engel by Herbert Walker, who invited him out for drinks at a local Bennigan's and began asking McFadden if he was "bad." Eventually, Herbert Engel told McFadden that he had a "cousin" with a problematic ex-girlfriend and they needed someone to "take care" of her — and that they'd pay that person $25,000.
McFadden had never done anything like that, but, over the course of several visits to Bennigan's — at least one of which involved the "cousin," eventually identified as William Engel, according to court records — and copious amounts of alcohol, McFadden had seemingly been convinced.
On Dec. 12, McFadden and Herbert Engel met to make arrangements: McFadden was to go to Kassa the following night, conceal himself to wait for "the cousin" and his "ex-girlfriend," then emerge and kill her. Herbert Engel provided McFadden with a picture of Xiomara Engel and an extra set of keys to her car.
On Dec. 13, McFadden recruited Wright to help with the drive and then took a taxi to Kassa (later confirmed by the taxi driver, who also identified Herbert Walker's car in the lot). Once there, Herbert Walker demanded to see McFadden's weapon of choice, which turned out to be an electrical cord cut from an old refrigerator. Herbert Walker told McFadden to destroy the body with acid and crush the car — but McFadden didn't exactly know how to do either.
Herbert Engel left McFadden, who concealed himself in a bathroom near the darkened loading dock. William Engel and Xiomara Engel entered the loading dock together, and William Engel claimed the lights were out, using it as a ruse to lure Xiomara Engel further into the bay area. When she passed the bathroom, McFadden struck.
"McFadden comes up behind her," Tobin told "Killer Siblings." "McFadden is a big man, Xiomara’s a small woman. He puts the cord around her neck, from that point on, she didn’t have a chance."
As McFadden was strangling his victim, he told investigators, William Engel lit a cigarette and watched, at one point telling his dying ex-wife, "You b-tch."
After Xiomara Engel was dead, McFadden drove her car into the loading dock — which is what set off the alarm with which William Engel had to deal. The two men threw Xiomara Engel's body in the tire well, and, by 8:30 p.m., McFadden was off to pick up Wright and head to South Carolina.
McFadden and Wright's stories matched up from there — but McFadden had one more detail to reveal to investigators. Though the brothers had offered him $25,000, they'd only paid him $1,300 the night of the murder and $5,000 after his return. In the weeks since, the other $19,700 he'd been promised had remained outstanding.
McFadden finally identified both Xiomara and William Engel from photos shown to him, and was arrested. His arrest was followed by the arrests of William and Herbert Engel; all were charged with murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
Bergen County investigators then went to South Carolina to inspect Xiomara Engel's burnt out car and noticed something the South Carolina team had missed: in the truck area was a charred electrical cable, cut at one end with the prongs still attached at the other. It was the weapon James McFadden had described using to murder his victim.
The brothers hired expensive lawyers and delayed their trial for nearly two years — during which an informant from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn told the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office that the two tried to arrange to have McFadden killed, thinking his death would end the case against them. (McFadden pleaded guilty to the charges against him in 1985 in exchange for a non-death penalty sentence.)
But in June 1986, William and Herbert Engel went to trial for the murder of Xiomara Engel. And though they tried to argue that Xiomara Engel had been involved with McFadden, who had killed her and framed them, it didn't work: after 17 hours of deliberation, both men were convicted of murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
Both received 30-year prison sentences. Herbert Engel died in prison of respiratory failure nine years after his conviction. William Engel died of cancer soon after. James McFadden served 29 years and was paroled in 2015, according to New Jersey state prison records.
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